Riot police in Turkey 370.
(photo credit: REUTERS/Yannis Behrakis)
ISTANBUL - Turkish riot police using tear gas and water
cannon battled protesters for control of Istanbul's Taksim Square on Tuesday
night as demonstrators defied Prime Minister Tayyip Erdogan's demand they clear
the area and end 10 days of demonstrations.
Police fired volleys of tear
gas canisters into a crowd of thousands - people in office clothes as well as
youths in masks who had fought skirmishes throughout the day - sending them
scattering into side streets and nearby hotels. Water cannon swept across the
square targeting stone-throwers in masks.
Protesters, who accuse Erdogan
of overreaching his authority after 10 years in power and three election
victories, thronged the steep narrow lanes that lead down to the Bosphorus
waterway. Gradually, many began drifting back into the square as police
withdrew, and gathered around a bonfire of rubbish.
Erdogan had earlier
called on protesters to stay out of Taksim, the centre of demonstrations
triggered by a heavy-handed police crackdown on a rally against development of
the small Gezi Park abutting the square.
Gezi Park has been turned into a
ramshackle settlement of tents by leftists, environmentalists, liberals,
students and professionals who see the development plan as symptomatic of
The protests, during which demonstrators used
fireworks and petrol bombs, have posed a stark challenge to Erdogan's authority
and divided the country. In an indication of the impact of the protests on
investor confidence, the central bank said it would intervene if needed to
support the Turkish lira.
Erdogan, who denies accusations of
authoritarian behaviour, declared he would not yield.
"They say the prime
minister is rough. So what was going to happen here? Were we going to kneel down
in front of these (people)?" Erdogan said as action to clear the square
"If you call this roughness, I'm sorry, but this Tayyip Erdogan
won't change," he told a meeting of his AK party's parliamentary
Western allies have expressed concern about the troubles in a key
NATO ally bordering Syria, Iraq and Iran. Washington has held up Erdogan's
Turkey as an example of an Islamic democracy that could be emulated elsewhere in
the Middle East.
Victor in three consecutive elections, Erdogan says the
protests are engineered by vandals, terrorist elements and unnamed foreign
forces. His critics, who say conservative religious elements have won out over
centrists in his AK party, accuse him of inflaming the crisis with unyielding
"A comprehensive attack against Turkey has been
carried out," Erdogan said.
"The increase in interest rates, the fall in
the stock markets, the deterioration in the investment environment, the
intimidation of investors - the efforts to distort Turkey's image have been put
in place as a systematic project," he said.
Despite the street protests
against Erdogan, he remains un-rivalled as a leader in his AK party, in
parliament and on the streets.
The unrest has knocked investor confidence
in a country that has boomed under Erdogan. The lira, already suffering from
wider market turmoil, fell to its weakest level against its dollar/euro basket
since October 2011.
The cost of insuring Turkish debt against default
rose to its highest in ten months, although it remained far from crisis
The police move came a day after Erdogan agreed to meet protest
leaders involved in the initial demonstrations over development of the
"I invite all demonstrators, all protesters, to see the big
picture and the game that is being played," Erdogan said. "The ones who are
sincere should withdraw ... and I expect this from them as their prime
minister." Protesters accuse Erdogan of authoritarian rule and some suspect him
of ambitions to replace the secular republic with an Islamic order - something
"This movement won't end here ... After this, I don't
think people will go back to being afraid of this government or any government,"
said student Seyyit Cikmen, 19, as the crowd chanted "Every place is Taksim,
every place resistance." Turkey's Medical Association said that as of late
Monday, 4,947 people had sought treatment in hospitals and voluntary infirmaries
for injuries, ranging from cuts and burns to breathing difficulties from tear
gas inhalation, since the unrest began more than ten days ago. Three people have
Erdogan has repeatedly dismissed the protesters
as "riff-raff". But
Deputy Prime Minister Bulent Arinc said on Monday leaders of the Gezi Park
Platform group had asked to meet him and Erdogan had agreed.
was expected on Wednesday.